SHANNON DRAYER

Why Mariners hitters are embracing new approach to offense

Mar 27, 2024, 11:31 AM

Seattle Mariners Cal Raleigh...

Cal Raleigh of the Seattle Mariners hits a double in a 2024 spring training game against the Giants. (John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

(John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners’ offense did something last Saturday against the White Sox in Glendale, Ariz., that manager Scott Servais had never seen happen before: they played nine innings of baseball and didn’t miss once on a swing decision.

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“We did not chase one pitch,” Servais said. “We played an entire game and didn’t chase. It’s the first time I have ever seen it. It’s a 100 on our ‘Rake’ score (the Mariners’ in-house scoring system for offense). It’s hard to do. I don’t care what league you are playing in, it’s hard to do. I’ve never seen us do it as long as we have been running the report.”

Perhaps it was the cherry on top of what turned into an eye-opening string of games to end Cactus League play where the Mariners’ offense dominated. Yes, it was spring training and numbers in Arizona most often mean little, but not swinging at bad pitches is a rare controllable regardless of where the game is played. It is a potential good sign reinforced by the fact that the success over the last 10 games followed major changes both with the roster and coaching staff.

New look for Seattle Mariners this spring

How the offense has worked this spring has been far from a carbon copy of what the Mariners did in past springs. From situational focus in batting practice to actual game planning for the offense in the second half of Cactus League play, the look and sound of the offense has been different this spring. It’s something team president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has noticed on the field, in the meetings and when he’s made visits to the batting cages.

“That’s been a real treat,” Dipoto said. “This group has a cohesiveness that is just different than the offensive clubs we have had in the past. I love the way they talk, I love the way they interact with one another, and right now there is a collective mindset that really lines up with the way we want to play offense. It’s pretty exciting.”

Dipoto acknowledged the language and interaction he heard this spring was something they had talked about for years with the club, but clearly they came up short by messaging it in a way that didn’t land or stick. This spring, he pinpoints a “chalk talk” where outfielder Mitch Haniger and designated hitter Mitch Garver spoke to the team about offense, approach and what winning teams do as a turning point.

“That was a watershed moment in this camp,” Dipoto said, noting the Mariners hadn’t played good offense early in camp. “It kind of coincided with this meeting and it really took off. Now there is this collective focus on the whole rather than the part, and that’s a huge thing for us.”

Graver shared in that chalk talk his first-hand experience of being part of a championship offense – he’s coming off a World Series win with the Texas Rangers – and he believes the Mariners can follow a similar path.

“We’re trying to replicate what the best teams in the league do right, and that is get on base, slug, don’t strike out,” Garver said. “That’s kind of the common theme of Texas, Atlanta, LA, the Astros, all the top offenses in league. They’re not going to give in to pitchers. They’re going to stick to their game plan when they have an opportunity, and when they get the pitches they are looking for, they slug it. We’re starting to see it come around and it’s exciting.

“The whole idea is to create a nine-on-one approach. Nine of our guys against the guy that’s on the mound, and what we’re doing is we’re trying to wear him down to get him off his game plan and get on our game plan. I saw it work the past couple of years in Texas and it’s really simple. How do you separate your offense from other teams offenses? Well, you don’t chase those pitches or you don’t pop up the high fastball. You get on top of it and you hit a line drive pull-side. You are taking away the pitcher’s best pitch. Stuff like that is what separates teams, and it’s what keeps the needle moving for the next guy in the lineup. And as soon as you get traffic on the bases and the pitcher realizes he might not have his good stuff tonight, you got him. He flips the script. He starts relying on other pitches. And that’s when the slug comes in.”

The offensive coordinator’s impact

Words from a World Series champion have landed, as have the words of a new offensive coordinator for the Mariners, Brant Brown. Players have pointed to the different voice and hitting language he brings as a difference maker. It helps that he, like Garver, brings outside experience with a winning organization.

“He has experience with the Dodgers, and all the success that they’ve had in their history, he knows what it what it takes to prepare in order to be successful,” first baseman Ty France said. “So there’s been a lot of talk this camp of just knowing who you are as a hitter, what you have to do in order to be that type of hitter and kind of running with that. I think we’ve had those talks in the past. Just the way he’s able to connect with us and kind of relay that message, I think guys are really grasping onto that.”

Brown spent four years coaching in the Mariners organization before he went to the Dodgers, so there is a bit of familiarity with one long-time Mariner who has also returned to the team: Mitch Haniger, who was thrilled to see Brown brought back.

“Brownie and JD (hitting coach Jarret DeHart), I haven’t worked with people that are better than them,” Haniger said. “They know my body really well and they teach me things that I don’t know about myself. Like, ‘Hey, this is how you actually prefer to load (your swing).’ So it’s pretty cool. I have so much trust in them, which is great.”

With the addition of Brown and assistant hitting coach Tommy Joseph, the Mariners now have a substantial hitting group, much like what the pitchers have had with multiple coaches with multiple strengths, fields of emphasis and voices.

“Tommy is kind of the quiet worker, Brownie is the loud leader and JD is focused on the things he does the best,” Dipoto said of the hitting staff’s setup. “When JD is digging into player plans and swing shapes and the way our hitters launch, that’s when he is at his best. The job we have asked our hitting group to do in recent years, it had six or eight different legs for one person to manage. Now we have three people to manage that. That is a huge get for us.”

For France, it’s the communication with Brown that has been key.

“I think he just has a way of bringing out the best version of you as a hitter, and every guy is so different,” France said. “Being able to connect with 13-14 different guys, he really takes time every single day. To have an individual game plan with how you want to attack a pitcher or approach a pitcher, and you know he’s been very good at just communicating and helping us work through that even in game.”

Offseason phone calls with Brown had catcher Cal Raleigh on board well before Day 1, which prompted him to be the first to show up at the Mariners’ complex in Arizona after the new year. He wanted to see what the offensive changes were all about and has not been disappointed.

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“I was kind of the first one to see the new things he was going to put into play. I was a big fan from day 1,” Raleigh said. “It’s different – the language is different, the way to get things done is different. When you have a bat in your hand, you want to be the aggressor, you want to be the one doing damage, you want to be the one looking for things and not missing your pitch. I think it’s just put us more into an offensive mindset instead of a defensive mindset at the plate. It’s definitely a different look and a different feel, but I still feel like we’re going to be able to keep those walks in the back as well because it’s kind of in our DNA.”

While they can’t take the results from spring training into the regular season, the Mariners can take the reps with them. And the reps in 2024 did not look like those of springs past, with the Mariners taking a different and very “regular season” approach into games the last two weeks. They will also have the benefit of new teammates, new coaching, and a bit of new direction for the offense.

“It’s a credit to Jerry and Scott, going out there and realizing we needed a little something else,” Raleigh said. “It’s not like we were bad by any means, but just realizing there’s an adjustment (to be made) and not only going out there and getting players. Looking at on the coaching side as well and adjusting how we look at things, how we message things, I think it’s going to be very beneficial.”

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